Do you own a slow cooker? Do you actually use it? I am a relative newcomer to the joys of slow cooking. I don’t remember my mom ever using a slow cooker (also known as the brand name Crockpot), when I was growing up. I didn’t discover this amazing kitchen tool until a couple years after I had become a mom myself. Now that I know the awesome power of slow cooking, I can’t imagine not using it at least once a week during those busy weeknights when I have no time to mess with the oven or stove. It is a much better choice than take out or fast food for both your wallet and your health. If you are unfamiliar with slow cooking, it’s basically a way to cook food at lower temperatures for a longer period of time. I would never claim to be a black belt when it comes to slow cooking, but I can make a number of dishes now that the whole family loves. Although some see the slow cooker as an inferior cooking choice to the oven (it isn’t usually featured on the cooking channel, you may have noticed!), it is an excellent option for the busy family who wants to enjoy healthy, frugal meals. Slow cooking is a fabulous way to save on time, energy and money when it comes to family cooking.
Time Saver: If you wished you could have more home cooked meals but simply don’t have the time to spend an hour in the kitchen every night, slow cooking is a great option. It allows you to add the ingredients in the morning and the meal is ready when it’s dinnertime. I would not be comfortable leaving our oven on all day while I was away from home, but slow cookers are designed for that type of use. Many slow cookers have a warm cycle that comes on automatically once the cooking time is done. This keeps the food warm and ready to eat until you are ready for dinner. Most of the slow cooker dishes I make include only 4 - 5 ingredients so it’s not time consuming to prep the dish. If you batch cook and double the recipe, you also save time on a future meal. Cook once, clean up one set of dishes, but eat for 2 or 3 meals. That’s a great time saver for the busy cook!
Energy Saver: Not only does a slow cooker pull less current than an oven, it doesn’t heat up your kitchen as much either. In the heat of the summer, anything that will keep my house cooler, without added expense, is a very good thing. I have even heard of some folks who put the slow cooker on the porch to cook so there was no added heat to the kitchen! Can’t say I have tried that one, though.
Money Saver: One of the real advantages of a slow cooker is that you can cook more frugal cuts of meat, like London broil and stew beef and they are tenderized by the lengthy cooking time. Chicken breast is also soft and moist when cooked in the slow cooker. It’s also hard to overcook and burn the meat in a slow cooker because of the lower temperature. One of my favorite frugal slow cooker recipes is to put 1.5 to 2 lbs of London broil or chicken breast in a slow cooker. Pour on ½ your favorite bottle of BBQ sauce. Top with ½ chopped onion and garlic powder and pepper to taste. Cook on low for 7-8 hours. When done, pull apart with a fork for frugal, great tasting BBQ for sandwiches. Cost for 2 lbs meat: $4.00 (on sale for $2.00/lb). Cost for BBQ sauce .50 on sale with coupon. Cost for ½ onion and spices: .30. Total for dish = $4.80. With 2 lbs of meat, there are always leftovers at our house as well.
Disadvantages: There are some disadvantages to slow cooking that should also be considered. Many of the nutrients are lost in vegetables when cooked for such a long time. For this reason, when enjoying a slow cooker meal, I often serve a side salad or veggie that has not been cooked in the slow cooker. Because slow cookers are not secured to the counter, they are a real hazard for little children who may try to pull them down. The hot food and toasty slow cooker can inflict serious burns so use caution when slow cooking around kids. I always pushed the slow cooker to the back of the counter when my girls were younger.
If you are looking for a way to enjoy a hot, easy, frugal meal on a busy weeknight – it’s time to find that slow cooker you have hidden on the top shelf in the garage. I recommend the recipe sites in the box above, especially allrecipes.com. People who have made the recipes offer comments on how they tasted and how to improve them. Read the comments for great ideas on making the dishes taste even better. I have also included the link to a blog by a woman who cooked a dish in the slow cooker every single day for an entire year. She has posted many of the recipes on her blog and she has even written a book, "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow" published in 2009. If you have any favorite slow cooker recipes, please post them here so everyone can enjoy them. As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!
Here is one of my favorite beef stew recipes. The creamy gravy is so good served on egg noodles you almost don't need the meat!
Crockpot Beef Stew and Noodles
1.5 – 2 lbs beef stew meat
1 onion chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 carrots sliced
16 oz. beef broth (or water with bullion)
1 tsp garlic powder
2 bay leaves
splash of pepper
splash of Italian spices
8 oz. sour cream (I always use light sour cream and it tastes great)
½ cup flour
¼ cup water
12 – 16 oz egg noodles, cooked
Place stew meat in crockpot. Add carrots, onion, mushrooms, spices and both bay leaves. Pour broth over meat and vegetables. Cook on low for 7 hours. Take out bay leaves. In a separate bowl mix sour cream, flour and ½ cup water together. Then pour approx. 1 cup of broth from crockpot into sour cream mixture. Mix well. Pour sour cream mixture into crockpot and mix well. Turn crockpot to high and cook for 20-30 minutes to thicken gravy. Serve over cooked noodles with a roll and a side salad or green vegetable and enjoy!